The latest round in the nationwide battle to defend the historic gains of the civil rights movement opens in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on Monday where Republican politicians will be accused of blatantly attempting to discourage African Americans from voting. The local chapter of the NAACP is taking the Republican state governor, Pat McCrory, to court over a new rule that requires citizens who turn up at polling stations either to produce a photo-ID card or give a “reasonable” excuse for lacking one before they can cast a ballot. The NAACP argues that the new law places a burden on voters that is unconstitutional as it overtly discriminates against black citizens who are less likely to have access to such photo identification. “We see this as a fundamental attack on our democracy which we are fighting with everything we have,” said the Rev William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “Extremists in the North Carolina legislature have been working feverishly to keep African Americans, Latino families, students and seniors from the ballot box.” Voting rights promises to be a running cause of friction in the 2016 presidential election cycle. Republican-led states have rushed to introduce restrictions in the wake of the US supreme court’s 2013 decision, Shelby County v Holder, that dramatically weakened the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The latest calculation from the Brennan Center, an authoritative research body on voting rights at New York University, is that 21 states have introduced restrictive new voting laws since the midterm elections of 2010. In 15 of those states the barriers to participation will be in play in November’s presidential election.
In his final State of the Union address earlier this month, President Obama said he intended to make it his mission in his last year in office to fight against what he sees as the attack on America’s democracy. “We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder … And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.”
North Carolina’s law, HB 589, is among the sharpest assaults on voting rights that have been introduced by Republican-controlled legislatures in the wake of Shelby. The supreme court ruling removed an obligation on largely southern states to seek federal government approval before they made any changes to voting procedures.